Steve Clarke, James Martin Research Fellow, Institute for Science and Ethics, Oxford Martin School, Oxford gives a talk for the Ian Ramsey Centre for Science and Religion.
Joshua Greene argues that ordinary moral judgment results from the interaction of two distinct neural subsystems which generate competing moral intuitions. One subsystem generates consequentialist intuitions and the other generates deontological intuitions. Greene suggests that our faculty for generating deontological intuitions developed in response to an evolutionary need to suppress 'up close and personal' harmful acts within communities and when such acts are under consideration deontological intuitions tend to predominate in moral judgment. When 'up close and personal harms' are not under consideration consequentialist intuitions tend to predominate. A key problem with this account is that many deontological strictures (e.g. 'though shalt not lie') are meant to apply beyond the range of the 'up close and personal'. Here, the speaker seeks to defend Greene's account of the evolutionary origins of deontological moral intuition in the face of this problem, showing how it can be supplemented with an account of the ways in which social organisations can expand the scope of deontological moral judgment. The social organisations that are most effective in expanding the scope of deontological moral judgment are religious institutions. The speaker tries to show why this is so, drawing on Durkheim's account of the sacred. The speaker also considers the consequentialist normative arguments that Greene and Peter Singer build on Greene's descriptive account of moral judgment.